Last year was a landmark year for innovation and technology in Birmingham, and already 2019 is shaping up to be successful as well. We sat down with the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Vice President of Innovation and Technology Jon Nugent to discuss what’s on the horizon and why tech companies are choosing Birmingham.
Birmingham Business Alliance: The Birmingham Business Alliance was a part of $19.1 million in fundraising for companies in 2018. You were a leader in that effort. How does the BBA support businesses seeking help with fundraising?
Jon Nugent: We support businesses at all stages of fundraising, from developing the initial strategy to advising them on the best investment vehicle, introducing them to investors and, in some cases, developing strategies to best use the proceeds.
BBA: As the BBA’s Vice President of Innovation and Technology, you have a strong sense of what’s going on in Birmingham. What do you foresee as trends for 2019 in innovation and technology in Birmingham?
JN: Birmingham is home to technologies in multiple areas, including computer science, cybersecurity, robotics, SaaS, software development, medical technologies, biotechnologies and medical devices. In 2019, we expect to see continued gains made by companies in each of these areas with particular emphasis on software development and life sciences. Companies like DEFT and Fledging are making significant strides towards establishing Birmingham as a hub of innovation for robotic and computer accessories.
BBA: Talk to us about new ventures the BBA’s innovation and technology team is undertaking, like the newly launched Investors Roundtable series, and what we can expect in 2019.
JN: In 2018, we launched several ongoing series including the startup pitch clinic and the Investors Roundtable, specifically designed to provide startup companies with unique and valuable opportunities to engage with the community while gathering valuable information to grow their individual companies.
Going forward, we are excited to build upon those successes and, through our partnerships with organizations including Alabama Power Co., the City of Birmingham, EDPA, UAB and the Alabama Capital Network, among others, we will be launching several ambitious programs designed to nurture emerging companies and support established companies.
BBA: Shipt’s growth in 2018 proves that there has never been a better time to be a tech company in Birmingham. What makes Birmingham a great place to start a business, specifically one in innovation and technology?
JN: First of all, we are all excited by Shipt’s success and proud to have them here in Birmingham. Part of what makes Birmingham so special and so successful is our people and our resources. Through work that the BBA is conducting with groups including Central Six, the City of Birmingham and others, the local workforce is strong and continuing to grow to meet the needs of individual companies and technology industries in general.
What makes it great is the people and the resources. Birmingham is home to several great universities, including UAB, Samford and Birmingham-Southern, as well as a robust two-year college network and K-12 programs that continue to graduate some of the best and brightest people in the country who will be leaders in technology. These are the people and these are the institutions that are helping to make Birmingham unique and a competitive, exciting venue for companies to launch and grow.
BBA: What specific companies should we be watching this year?
JN: There are a number of companies that continue to be exciting. First and foremost among them is Shipt as it continues to grow, as well as local companies like Planet Fundraiser and Wyndy. Additionally, the Velocity Accelerator has recently welcomed its newest cohort, which includes seven exciting companies, all of whom will be interesting to watch as the year progresses.
BBA: A year from now, what do you hope can be said about innovation and technology in 2019?
JN: Hopefully people will look back on 2019 and see it as an exciting jumping off point for increased activity and growth in 2020 and beyond. We have exciting programs that we’re continuing, we have new programs that we are launching, the city is home to a vibrant startup community and we are fortunate to have the support of an active, established business community to support growth here in 2019 and, certainly, beyond.